Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arizona lawmakers want to you to be able to turn right at a red light

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- In Arizona, the ability to make a right turn at a red light is considered all but a sacred right.
And now state lawmakers want to make sure it isn't taken away unless there's a darn good reason.
But the legislation is not just about saving motorists a few seconds at every intersection. It's being advanced by some who contend those signs are part of a larger effort to get people to give up their cars because driving is becoming less convenient.
The legislation that has been approved by both the House and Senate would bar local governments from erecting these signs unless a registered engineer first determines at each affected intersection that a right turn on red is unsafe either at all times or on specific days and times. And SB 1299 would require that to be documented.
What's prompted all this is Jay Beeber, policy director for the National Motorist Association which describes its mission as protecting the rights of drivers.
He told lawmakers that the right-on-red law in Arizona goes back to 1953 which says such turns are allowed -- after someone comes to a full stop -- unless there is a sign against them. And Beeber said that during the gasoline crisis in the 1970s there was a federal study showing the law saved drivers an average of 4.6 seconds "which translates into a 30% time savings for each driver at each light,'' saving fuel.
Beeber said there may be legitimate reasons to restrict such turns, whether at all times or during certain hours of the day. That could be due to restricted sight lines or heavy pedestrian traffic.
But he said that current Arizona law doesn't require such a justification. And Beeber said that allows communities to erect such signs -- and for reasons that have nothing to do with public safety.
"It's part of a larger agenda to restrict our movements, to restrict the ability to use a car and make it slower and more difficult.
"So, unfortunately, it's not really based on safety,'' he said. "It's based on, hey, we want to make driving more difficult.''
That got the attention of Sen. Jake Hoffman. The Queen Creek Republican has sponsored legislation designed to limit the use of public funds for any programs that he believes make driving less convenient, like reducing the number of lanes on any road.
And no turn on red signs?
"The folks who are doing this and engineering this, they're altering the choice architecture to make driving and make cars something that people don't want to do,'' Hoffman said.
"It's artificial,'' he said. "It's not real.''
The idea drew support from legislative Republicans, all of whom voted for SB 1299. That includes Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, who described herself "as a person who does not like to be in traffic, who wants to make sure to get to her destination ASAP.''
But Rep. Patty Contreras, D-Phoenix, called creation of a state law "unnecessary.''
"I think communities can do a better job of determining whether or not they need stop signs or do-not-turn-right-on-red signs much better,'' she said. And Contreras said she believes that cities don't just erect them without reason.
"I'm sure there are engineers that already go out and make these determinations,'' she said.
Contreras also said that, even at places where such turns are allowed, her own experience convinces here that doesn't necessarily make the practice safe at all times.
"I'm mindful of bicyclists on the side of the road,'' she said.
"I'm mindful of pedestrians,'' Contreras continued. "I'm mindful of that I maybe can't see if there's another car coming from the opposite direction that might hit me.''
It's not just in Arizona that Beeber and the National Motorist Association have been campaigning to reduce the number of signs blocking the ability to make right turns on red. The organization is pursuing the idea elsewhere.
But that's just part of the agenda of the nonprofit organization which does not release the names of its donors.
It is opposed to "traffic calming'' solutions, where roads are designed with features ranging from installing traffic circles and speed bumps to reducing speed limits.
Also unfavored are bans on the use of cell phones by motorists, with the association saying there already are laws against distracted driving. It also is on record opposing both photo radar to catch speeders as well as cameras to nab those who run red lights.
And it wants to repeal laws like those in Arizona which set at 0.08 the blood-alcohol content at which someone is considered legally intoxicated, calling it "absolutely arbitrary'' and saying "the vast majority'' of people are not impaired at that level. Instead it proposes a 0.12 standard.
The measure now goes to Gov. Katie Hobbs who does not comment on measures she has not yet reviewed.
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia

UPDATE: Jay Beeber of the National Motorists Association reached out to KAWC to clarify the organization's views. We've included the e-mailed statement below:

While we appreciate Mr. Fischer providing information on this important topic, the article unfairly characterizes the mission and policy positions of the National Motorists Association. The NMA is not opposed to traffic circles, and our objections to the overuse of speed bumps are that they can cause damage to vehicles’ suspensions and aren’t particularly effective in reducing speeds overall. “Traffic calming” measures should be used within the proper roadway context for a specific safety purpose, as they can impede emergency response times and divert traffic onto neighborhood streets.

Our objection to automated ticketing programs is rooted in the fact that these programs often prioritize revenue generation over safety. This approach can discourage the implementation of proven engineering countermeasures that could enhance road safety but might reduce profits.

Finally, the NMA is certainly not in favor of impaired or distracted driving. We believe traffic laws should be based on proven safety interventions while not unduly restricting automobile travel. Although we cannot explain the nuances of all our policy positions in this limited space, Mr. Fischer should have contacted us for comment on the right turn on red legislation and our overall philosophy on traffic and transportation matters. For more information about the NMA, see

Jay Beeber
Executive Director – Policy
National Motorists Association